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The World Trade Organisation Annual Public Form

The WTO held its annual Public Forum from 28 Sept to 1 Oct. EFA spoke as a panelist at DigitalEurope’s event on moving out of the COVID economic slow down with the help of the digital economy. Participants in the WTO Public Forum called for collective action to address urgent challenges associated with sustainable trade, such as the establishment of regulatory and policy principles on carbon border adjustments and the promotion of international standards on environmental goods. Representatives from governments, non-governmental organizations, and businesses stressed that sustainability is a powerful driver for resilience to crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and underlined the important role the WTO should play in paving the way for a stronger trade and environment agenda. The event was a mixture of virtual and physical but we were told that very few attended physically. A copy of EFA’s statement is available on request ([email protected]).

Meanwhile 7 months into her 4-year tenure as the Director General at the WTO, there are reports that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is growing frustrated with the workings of the organization and has floated the idea of resigning if no headway can be found on critical issues. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala began her tenure with a plan to score quick negotiating victories that she hoped would help reboot WTO. To date, WTO members have failed to make significant headway on these priority areas, which are: an agreement to curb harmful fishery subsidies; a pledge to reduce trade-distorting agricultural policies; and a framework to expand global trade in vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.

Observers note that her early departure would add yet another layer of chaos to an organization suffering from an existential crisis that may lead governments to conclude that WTO is not a credible forum for addressing their shared challenges. Deep divisions and a lack of trust are not new for the WTO, which requires consensus agreement among all 164 members to finalize multilateral accords. The WTO’s rigid negotiating structure and the disparate interests of its diverse membership have precluded the organization from delivering anything substantial for the better part of the past decade.

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